The COVID-19 Pandemic: The epidemic curve wobbles, spring arrives, and AAPI attacks continueApr 5, 2021
Sadness, anger, and recovery continue from recent tragedies in Colorado and elsewhere, and there was yet another vicious attack on an Asian-American—a 65-year-old in New York City—while bystanders did nothing to stop the attack. The pandemic has provoked and exacerbated prejudice, particularly against Asian-Americans, fueled by the rhetoric of the former Administration. Words and actions matter, and these attacks are unconscionable. Speak up, take action, and show your support. Some of our students have organized two upcoming healing space events for Stop AAPI Hate, and all AAPI members of the ColoradoSPH community are welcomed.
The seemingly orchestrated attacks on voting rights by Republican state legislatures are also troubling, signaling a willingness to regress to an era of voter suppression that should not return. I remember that era well and the struggles to obtain voting rights for all. Voting is always relevant to public health, particularly at a moment when public health has been so unnecessarily politicized.
Yet again in Colorado, the epidemic curve remained stable over the last week with a continuing plateau at about 330 Coloradans hospitalized with COVID-19. The modeling team estimates that the effective reproductive number is slightly above one, meaning that the epidemic is growing slowly. The demographics of the state’s pandemic are changing as the benefits of vaccination are realized among older Coloradans. In fact, there are now fewer hospitalizations among Coloradans 65 and older than among those aged 40 to 64. As in the fall, transmission remains too high among the younger population, a group not yet adequately vaccinated. The emergence of the B.1.1.7 variant is also of concern as the CDC shows Colorado among the states with the largest number of isolates of this more transmissible and virulent strain.
Last year there was no usual “opening day” for the Colorado Rockies. The shortened Major League Baseball season began late. This year, the Rockies did open on April 1 and with fans in attendance. Only 21,000 are currently allowed in a stadium that typically seats over 51,000. On television, Coors Field appears comfortably spaced and the fans are outdoors. In LoDo, outdoor seating is full at restaurants. And temperatures are warming. Perhaps transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is seasonal as with other respiratory viruses and will wane for that reason. Reflecting anticipation of a waning epidemic, the State of Colorado has again made changes in the COVID-19 Dial that reduce restrictions for qualifying counties. The overall impact is a lightening of measures.
By now, you may be confused about Colorado’s COVID-19 Dial, its colors, and its metrics. The Sunday New York Times reviewed color schemes across the nation, including Colorado’s, and described the diversity of color messaging. Perhaps we could come to a national agreement on color codes for severity of an epidemic, as with traffic lights?
Over the pandemic year, the media have frequently asked me and other members of the modeling team about changes in transmission control measures—increasing or decreasing their intensity as the epidemic has surged and fallen. Now is one of those times when there is uncertainty about the epidemic’s trajectory, particularly over the next few weeks. By month’s end, the epidemic curve should turn down as the majority of Coloradans will likely have received at least one dose. But we need continued restraint for now.
This is National Public Health Week with a full slate of events across the week. I call your attention to Wednesday’s talk by Amelie Ramirez from UT Health San Antonio: “The Salud America! Story—Fueling Advocacy for Latino Health Equity to Address Public Health Crises.” I also call your attention to the April 7 session in our collaborative series with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science: COVID-19: Reflections on Our Pandemic Year. This is the 30th (and for now the last) episode in this series, launched a year ago as the school and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science responded to the public’s need for information. There will likely be more sessions as major topics emerge, but as a good sign of the pandemic’s direction here in Colorado, new episodes will no longer be regularly scheduled. Podcasts and written summaries of the sessions are available.
Jonathan Samet, MD, MS
Dean, Colorado School of Public Health